Updated at 2:45 p.m. CT with comments from attorney Neel Lane and plaintiff Mark Phariss.
San Antonio U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia has ruled Texas' ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional and a denial of the equal protection clause, following a hearing earlier this month challenging the constitutional amendment. In an opinion released today, Garcia granted the two couples, suing Texas for their right to marry, a preliminary injunction. However, don't expect wedding bells for the LGBT community in Texas just yet— Garcia's order stays the injunction pending an appeal decision from the (notoriously conservative) Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Cleopatra De Leon (left) and her spouse Nicole Dimetman
The San Antonio-tied couples, extensively profiled in the Current’s Jan. 29 cover story
— Nicole Dimetman and her partner Cleopatra De Leon and Mike Phariss and partner Victor Holmes — wish to either get married in Texas or be recognized as a lawful married couple, as in the case of Dimetman and De Leon, who were forced to wed in Massachusetts hundreds of miles from their home state.
In his opinion, Garcia states, "Texas' current marriage laws deny homosexual couples the right to marry, and in doing so, demean their dignity for no legitimate reason." Citing precedent in the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Windsor
and holding the ban has no rational basis, Garcia concludes:
"Today's Court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the United States Constitution and Supreme Court precedent. Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution. Furthermore, Supreme Court precedent prohibits states from passing legislation born out of animosity against homosexuals (Romer), has extended constitutional protection to the moral and sexual choices of homosexuals (Lawrence), and prohibits the federal government from treating state-sanctioned opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages differently (Windsor)."
“It’s fantastic. We are very excited,” Phariss tells the Current
Phariss and Holmes flew in to San Antonio last night from their home in Plano to be present for the decision and found out the news via text from attorney Neel Lane. Phariss says they both let out a yell (“We won!”) and began alerting close friends and family before becoming overwhelmed with tears, “We were just so moved by the thought that we are now one step closer to being able to marry,” he says.
SA-based attorney Neel Lane of the Akin Gump law firm shares in his client's enthusiasm.
“It’s very exciting, I couldn’t be more thrilled for my clients and for anyone like them who just want to be treated equally, like every other citizen of the state,” Lane tells the Current
"Federal judges have decided unanimously one case after another that restrictions on same sex marriage violated the equal protection clause. And I think this is part of a larger picture that finds restrictions based on sexual orientation unconstitutional in a lot of different contexts. I think it means that citizens of this state and this country will have the same right, whatever their sexual orientation and that’s an important piece in our civil rights legacy."
Neel concedes the Fifth Circuit is known for leaning heavily conservative and thus, seen as potentially unfavorable to LGBT rights. But he makes the point the Equal Protection Clause was born and backed by conservative ideals.
"It's perceived as a conservative court but equal rights for everyone is a conservative principle and is consistent with a conservative view of our Constitution," he says. "In fact, it [the Equal Protection Clause] was passed by Republicans and signed into law by a Republican president, Abraham Lincoln."
As Garcia noted in the mid-February hearing, a final decision on same-sex marriage at the state level and in other states with pending cases across the nation will likely await final resolution “in time, or perhaps soon” from the U.S. Supreme Court. Neel agrees, "I think that the law is clear and this case should be affirmed, no question. And if it’s not affirmed by the Fifth Circuit then the Fifth Circuit is going to be reversed by the Supreme Court."
While conservative Attorney General and Republican primary candidate for governor, Greg Abbott says Texas will immediately appeal the ruling to the Fifth Circuit, LGBT advocates are praising Garcia's decision in the meantime.
"Today's ruling by Judge Garcia is a huge victory that moves Texas one step closer to the freedom to marry," Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas said in a statement. "We are gratified to see Judge Garcia uphold the Constitution of the United States and declare that Texas' restrictions on the freedom to marry are unconstitutional and unenforceable. We anxiously await the day when the United States Supreme Court will reach the same conclusion."
Read the full opinion here:
Garcia Opinion on Marriage Equality Case